Psychology and Spirituality: East vs. West
After living in Korea for a little over a year now, I can say that western and eastern cultures are extremely different. Well, not merely just extremely different but actually quite the opposite in their way of thinking and doing things. Western culture so often looks at things logically and “black and white” while eastern cultures, I’ve found, actually encourage sharing emotions, harmony in communities, and developing relationships beyond a mere work environment. Though there are many trends that I’ve noticed and have tried to understand, I’ve felt that I’ve still been missing a bit of a “link” in fully understanding the east — and, after visiting Japan, I have been even more curious to “figure these cultures out”.
Upon the end of my vacation in Japan and arriving back to Korea, I happened to make a new Korean friend along the way. Luckily through our conversations, I felt much more enlightened about understanding Eastern philosophy and culture versus the west. These are a few points that I’ve realized that I’ve felt (so far) draws the line of differing philosophies clearly:
- Western Christianity has the philosophy of “You are sinner. You are bad. To save you from sin, you need to be educated by the bible and our teachings”.
- Eastern Christianity has the philosophy of “You are a pure being. What influenced you to sin? What influenced you to do bad?”
- Eastern culture, in general, has a heavy Buddhism influence.
- Western culture, in general, has a heavy Christian influence.
- The Japanese have two main religions: Shinto and Buddhism, which they kind of influence each other. Shinto is only Japanese and Buddhism came over from China and Korea. Other religions are a minority in Japan. Japan’s Emperor is looked to as a divine being (which correlates to the view of a “hierarchy” and honor your ancestors and God(s) in the east). During WWII, all people were told to honor the Emperor. Clearly, after the atomic bomb and the end of the war this trend ended and Japan had a cultural impact from the US. This opened them up to a democracy and starting things (slowly) like clinical psychology.
- When considering that Japan still has an Emperor, their government structure is actually more similar to one of the UK. While South Korea, on the other hand, has a government structure like the US because of the US influence after the Korean civil war.
- The Japanese have had a philosophy of “we need to protect our God” — hence, their past drive for things like suicide missions, which is also a similar philosophy to Muslims.
This Eastern view of questioning “What influenced you to do bad?” is something I find quite fascinating. This view is even a complete reflection of the police and government’s influence in the east compared to the west. In western countries, you often see police watching the streets. They are always wondering “Who is speeding” and to see if you are “Being a good person”. In the eastern countries, I hardly ever see police. I have never seen a single person pulled over for speeding. The reason for this is because they naturally assume that “Everyone is good”.
This differing in philosophy has a greater impact than just with the government and police, but I’ve also seen this in economic and social development in eastern cultures. When something new is introduced from a different country, the eastern cultures react in a way of “Oh wait, is this bad? Maybe we should wait it out a bit to check that it is an okay”.
Based on an article about psychology in Japan that I found here, it seems that the country has been rather hesitant into really allowing this “drive to have psychotherapy” from the states to really take off. I’ve personally noticed the same trend in South Korea, where, despite a country having the largest suicide rate in the world, there are hardly any therapists. The reason is because of this cultural philosophy of thought of therapy that says “That tells us we are bad, so how can that be good?”
I can’t help but see a big lesson behind this trend and to feel that it is something that the US and other western countries need to learn is that: You can’t truly help the majority of people by placing the belief on them that they are “bad” with personality disorders, psychological medications, and blaming their parents and family. It only adds more negative energy, resistance, and keeps people in a stagnant cycle.
I see how the west has certainly done it’s influence on the east and it is producing a positive effect as far as their gradual economic and social growth, but when will the west fully accept and be influenced by eastern philosophy? I feel that it’s starting and the trends can be found, but there’s still a ways to go.
If there is anyone reading who would be considered from an eastern culture or has lived in an eastern culture, I would love your input! I can try to understand the cultural differences as much as I can, but it is still something that I’m still really trying to wrap my mind around because my own cultural upbringing has me in a “western” view of thought.
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Posted on August 22, 2012, in Psychology, Spirituality and tagged culture, east west, eastern culture, eastern philosophy, travel, western culture, western psychology. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.